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US basketballer admits to Australian’s death, avoiding lengthy jail time

A young Los Angeles basketballer will avoid a long prison sentence after pleading guilty to the fatal Hollywood hit-and-run death of Australian Andrew Mallard.

Kristopher Smith, 20, was facing a four-year prison term in the tragic case, but struck a plea deal with prosecutors.

Inglewood High basketball star Kristopher Smith.Credit:CBS Los Angeles

Smith, during an appearance in a downtown LA courtroom on Thursday (Friday AEDT), agreed to serve 30 days of weekend detention at LA County Jail, 30 hours of community service and three years' probation.

Smith will also pay yet-to-be determined restitution to Mr Mallard's Perth- based family.

"Yes, your honour," Smith quietly replied when Judge James Dabney asked if he understood what he was agreeing to.

Mr Mallard's death was the final cruel twist in a tragic life for the 56-year-old from Perth.

Mr Mallard was wrongly imprisoned for 12 years in Australia for the 1994 death of Perth jeweller Pamela Lawrence.

Andrew Mallard walks out of Casuarina prison a free man with his mother Grace Mallard and John Quigley.

His conviction was quashed by the High Court in 2005, he received a $3.25 million ex gratia payment and had been trying to move on with his life when he was struck by Smith's vehicle and left to die while crossing Sunset Blvd in Hollywood about 1.30am on April 18 last year.

Smith, who played basketball for Inglewood High School and East LA College, surrendered to the LAPD five days later.

Smith entered guilty pleas on Thursday to one felony count of hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious injury and one misdemeanour count of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.

He will be sentenced on March 19.

Prosecutor Kristopher Gay told the court he expected a victim's impact statement from Mr Mallard's family would be read out in court at the sentencing.

AAP

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Taliban held Australian for years, now he’s their guest for signing ceremony

Washington: At first glance, the two men look almost like old friends, grinning for a camera as they sit together on a couch drinking coffee.

But they make a very unlikely pair.

Anas Haqqani and Timothy Weeks meet in the airport in Doha, Qatar.

One is Timothy Weeks, the Australian academic kidnapped at gunpoint in Kabul in 2016 who then spent more than three years as a Taliban hostage. The other is Anas Haqqani, brother of the leader of the Haqqani network, an extremist group allied with the Taliban, who was held in Afghan custody for several years.

The two men's fates were inextricably linked last year when they were both released as part of a prisoner swap that freed Haqqani and two other high-level commanders in exchange for Weeks and Kevin King, an American citizen. Weeks and King, both former lecturers at the American University of Afghanistan, were kidnapped at the same time when gunmen ambushed their SUV in central Kabul.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted an unexpected photo – one that would have been hard to imagine even a few months ago – of Weeks and Haqqani together at the airport in Qatar on Thursday, and said Weeks was there to attend the expected signing of a deal between the Taliban and the United States. Weeks wore a scarf, tunic and hat commonly worn in Afghanistan's Kandahar province.

Timothy Weeks while being held by the Taliban. Credit:Twitter

Mujahid told The Washington Post that Weeks was present at the Taliban's invitation. The Post was not able to reach Weeks for comment.

The Taliban and US-backed Afghan forces are nearing the end of an agreed seven-day period of reduced violence ahead of an expected peace deal between the United States and the Taliban.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced the planned release of the Taliban prisoners in exchange for Weeks and King last November, saying he hoped the move would jump-start "direct talks" with the Taliban.

The three prisoners in Afghan custody all belonged to the Haqqani network, a violent group responsible for several high-profile kidnappings in recent years. US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad had long sought the release of the two lecturers as he negotiated peace talks with the Taliban.

The Afghan government's release of Haqqani was a concession after earlier declarations that to free him would be to cross a "red line."

After Weeks's release last year he spoke highly of his captors, noting that they were soldiers following orders and treated him with respect.

"I don't hate them at all," he said in a news conference when he returned to Australia. "And some of them I have great respect for and, and great love for almost."

Weeks also said he learned how to speak Pashto while being held by the group and even hugged some of his captors before he left.

He told Tolo News, a prominent Afghan news outlet, that he hoped to one day "return and to visit the people of Afghanistan."

Weeks, who was 50 at the time of his release, has made public appearances since he was freed in November, but King, who was 66, has kept a lower profile.

While in captivity, the Taliban warned that King's health was rapidly deteriorating and that he was suffering from a serious kidney condition. The two men appeared in videos together begging to be released and appeared unwell.

But on Thursday, Weeks and Haqqani were both all smiles, standing next to each other with the knowledge neither would be free if not for the other.

The Washington Post

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Stolen hearse crashes on LA freeway with coffin inside

Los Angeles: It has all the hallmarks of an only-in-Los Angeles crime: a thief stole a hearse – with a body inside – that went on a wild ride, ending with a chase and a crash on a busy freeway.

Authorities say they found the body undisturbed inside a coffin on Thursday, local time, and took a male into custody after the crash, which closed the 110 Freeway during the morning commute. The deceased's identity was not immediately released.

Los Angeles police officers at the scene of the end of a pursuit of a hearse with a body inside in South Los Angeles.Credit:KTTV-TV/AP

The crime began on Wednesday night, when the thief stole the black Lincoln Navigator from outside St Anthony Greek Orthodox Church in East Pasadena. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department pleaded with the thief on social media to return the body in a post that was widely shared online.

"Out of all the bad decisions you have made, at least make one good one & bring back the deceased person & casket inside the Navigator," it tweeted.

Local media reported that the coffin remained in the vehicle while a mortuary attendant brought a second coffin into the church and that's when the SUV was stolen.

The hearse was stolen from outside a church in Los Angeles the night before it was pursued by police and crashed.Credit:AP

On Thursday morning, a witness reported seeing the SUV and was following it. Los Angeles police officers pursued the hearse on local streets and onto the freeway until it crashed around 7.45am. At least one officer was involved in the crash, though Los Angeles police did not immediately have details about it.

No one was seriously injured, police said.

Video footage from news helicopters showed that it has heavy front-end damage. It was not immediately clear if the person in custody was the same person who had stolen the hearse.

The Sheriff's Department did not identify the funeral home.

AP

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Driver, 83, who killed young girl at Christmas after falling to stop gets just a $169 fine – The Sun

AN 83-year-old driver who killed a young girl around Christmas time is only getting fined $169 for her deadly failure to stop.

Jo Anne Stanker fatally struck Sophia Nelson, 12, when she was walking through a crosswalk in Satellite Beach, Florida.


Sophia, a sixth grader at Surfside Elementary School, suffered a tragic brain injury when she was hit at a flashing-yellow beacon crosswalk on December 22, Florida Today reported.

According to the Satellite Police Department, no criminal charges were filed as there was "no evidence whatsoever that the driver was driving in a dangerous or reckless manner."

Stanker admitted to not seeing the victim as she failed to stop her car at the crosswalk.

Police Chief Jeff Pearson said: “If you’re driving the speed limit and you’re coming up to a red light and everything’s perfect and you slowly push the brakes, and push the brakes.

"But you don’t push them hard enough to stop at the stop bar, and you stop in the middle of the intersection and hit a car that’s not reckless that’s just bad driving."

He added: “We want to put that person in for a re-exam just to make sure that their driving skills are capable enough to drive safely on our roads.”

Stanker will not be criminally charged, however she was issued a moving traffic violation and must pay a $169 citation.

A statement from Sophia's family, shared by ClickOrlando, read: "While it does not repair the pain, through their faith the family has expressed forgiveness of (the driver).

"In a way, (the driver) was also an unfortunate victim of the confusion and danger that is created by these flashing yellow light mid-block crosswalks, which has been known for many year now."

Sophia's heartbroken parents, Mark and Jill Nelson, opened up at a Florida House committee meeting Thursday morning: "We rushed her to Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital in hopes of a Christmas miracle.

"But in the end, the miracle wasn’t for Sophia to come back and make our family whole. The miracle was for four other families that Sophia was able to save.

"And by doing this and passing this bill, our hope is that Sophia will continue to save even more lives by making the changes necessary — and stopping the confusion caused by these lights."

They also called for mid-block crosswalks to be removed.

Florida Rep. Randy Fine filed the Sophia Nelson Pedestrian Safety Act last month, according to Florida Today.

If passed, the bill would replace yellow rectangular rapid flashers with red versions, like the HAWK beacon system.

Mark and Jill hope Sophia will help save more lives, as she has already donated organs to four recipients after her death.

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New York Public Library event will ‘celebrate’ convicted cop-killer Robert Hayes

Radicals will “celebrate” an extremist cop-killer at a New York Public Library branch on Saturday — and cops are furious.

“Celebrate the life of Robert Seth Hayes,” reads the promotional poster for the event to be held at 2 p.m. at the NYPL’s Countee Cullen Branch in Harlem.

Hayes died in December, a year and half after he was paroled for the senseless, 1973 shooting of Transit Officer Sidney Thompson.

“Join us to commemorate this former Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army veteran,” reads the poster, which also calls Hayes a “long term political prisoner and freedom fighter.”

Sponsors include the Northeast Political Prisoner Coalition and the Black Panther party — and the Master of Ceremonies will be a convicted, would-be cop killer, Sekou Odinga, also a leading Black Panther and member of the cop-hating BLA.

“This is a celebration of terrorism paid for with your tax dollars,” railed Patrick Lynch of the Police Benevolent Association.

The flyer for the NYPL event honoring Robert Hayes090513library6CS

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Drugs are killing TWICE as many people as car crashes

Drugs are killing TWICE as many people as car crashes, sparking calls for police to crack down on county lines gangs who are fuelling the staggering statistic

  • Drug dealers are peddling ‘woke coke’ with claims cocaine is ‘ethically sourced’
  • New figures reveal deaths due to misuse of substances are the highest on record
  • Constable calls for police to treat cannabis offending as seriously as other drugs

Britons are now twice as likely to die from drugs than a road accident, a police chief revealed yesterday.

The shocking fact lays bare the scale of the drug menace gripping the country.

It was revealed by top police officer Andy Cooke. He also told how drug dealers are peddling ‘woke coke’, attracting middle-class users with the claim that drugs are ‘ethically-sourced’ and ‘no-one had been harmed in the production of this cocaine’.

The figures emerged on the day a major report warned of the unprecedented number of children and teenagers being drawn into the drug trade through county lines gangs.

Dame Carol Black’s review for the Home Office said a resurgence in crack cocaine use led to a rise in killings while the growth of county lines gangs has increased levels of violence. A stock photo is used above for illustrative purposes only [stock photo]

Dame Carol Black’s drugs review revealed that deaths due to misuse of substances were the highest on record, with a total of 4,104 in the UK in 2018, with 2,917 recorded in England and Wales and 1,187 in Scotland.

Yesterday Chief Constable Cooke, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council on crime operations, said the rising death toll was more than double the 1,784 killed on Britain’s roads in the same year.

He called for police forces to ‘come down hard’ on all types of drug offences, including possession of cannabis.

Deaths involving cocaine doubled between 2015 and 2018 and the number of deaths overall from misuse of drugs rose by 16 per cent between 2017 and 2018.

‘It’s shocking, but sadly not surprising, that you are now twice as likely to die a drugs-related death than from a road accident,’ he said.

‘It’s why everyone must focus more on dealing with addiction, alongside the police work to target the dealers.

Deaths involving cocaine doubled between 2015 and 2018 and the number of deaths overall from misuse of drugs rose by 16 per cent between 2017 and 2018. A stock photo is used above for illustrative purposes only [File photo]

‘It is a hidden shift, because no real attention has been paid to the number of drug deaths … until county lines became an issue.’

County lines drug gangs are named for the phone lines used to arrange deals outside major cities.

Mr Cooke added: ‘People have realised it is not just an issue for Manchester, Merseyside or Birmingham, it is an issue for every town and city.’

The Merseyside Chief Constable spoke at the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners summit as he condemned middle-class users for fuelling a trade which is costing society around £19billion a year.

Dealers with business cards who deliver in just 27 minutes

Hard drugs are as easy to obtain as a takeaway pizza because organised crime is flooding Britain’s streets with ‘abundant’ supplies, a Government analyst warns.

Substances such as cocaine and ecstasy can be delivered to the door in minutes by dealers – in some cases more quickly than a 12-inch pepperoni. Many dealers even carry business cards.

An official Home Office study revealed violent county lines gangs have usurped local dealers in virtually every part of the country and are intimately linked with a ‘dramatic increase in violence’.

Report author Dame Carol Black, former president of the Royal College of Physicians, told a Home Office drugs conference in Glasgow: ‘You can buy whichever drug you want almost anywhere. It’s almost – for some drugs – as easy as getting your pizza.’

A BBC investigation found it took just 27 minutes to get hold of an order of cocaine from a dealer in Leeds, who had his own business cards.

A reporter texted a dealer at 7.35pm, received a reply 20 minutes later, and seven minutes after that handed over £60 cash for two small bags of drugs.

Dame Carol’s review said organised crime is driving use of hard drugs and other illegal substances in rural areas.

County lines gangs use dedicated phone lines to sell drugs – mainly heroin and crack cocaine – out of major cities and into shire counties, market towns and coastal resorts.

Dame Carol said: ‘The county lines model now stretches all over the country and has largely displaced local dealers.’

Increasingly, local children are being recruited to work for the gangs rather than youths shipped in from urban areas, she added.

‘It is a very violent business model, both for victims and between groups,’ she said.

‘Potential future saturation of county lines markets raises the threat of violence still further.’

He said: ‘I heard the most ridiculous thing recently that some drug dealers were claiming they had ethically sourced cocaine. There is nothing ethical about the production of cocaine.

‘Both nationally and internationally, people die as a result of it. We see people shot and stabbed all the time, we see turf wars in relation to drugs. We need to continue to target those individuals involved in violent criminality on the back of the drug trade more strongly than ever.’

He added: ‘People think that they have to go and buy vegan food or organic food, but they are quite happy to go and buy cocaine on the streets. It is just hypocritical and it is targeted at the middle-class drug user who should know better.’

Mr Cooke said forces should treat cannabis offending as seriously as other drugs. 

‘We get more people shot and stabbed on the streets of Merseyside as a result of cannabis wars than other issues.’

Dame Carol Black’s review for the Home Office said a resurgence in crack cocaine use led to a rise in killings while the growth of county lines gangs has increased levels of violence.

The proportion of killings in London which are drug-related stands at 56 per cent, the report revealed, while in the north of England it is 42 per cent.

In the south, Midlands and Wales it is 37 per cent.

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US workers sent to assist coronavirus evacuees reportedly lacked proper gear

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services brass sent more than a dozen workers to meet the first Americans evacuated from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, without adequate gear to protect them from contracting the deadly illness, a government whistleblower claims in a complaint that came to light Thursday.

The whistleblower, identified as a senior HHS official based in Washington, supervises workers at the Administration for Children and Families, a unit within HHS, The Washington Post reported.

She charged that HHS staff were “improperly deployed” and were “not properly trained or equipped to operate in a public health emergency situation,” according to a complaint obtained by the outlet.

The complaint also charged that unidentified workers could have been exposed to coronavirus because they weren’t protected or trained how to properly wear personal protective equipment even though they were in close contact with the passengers in an airplane hanger.

The whistleblower is now seeking federal protection, saying she was unfairly reassigned after raising concerns about the workers’ safety to top HHS officials including staffers in the office of HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

Her lawyers said she was told on Feb. 19 that if she did not accept the new gig by March 5, she would be canned. The whistleblower has decades of experience in the field, won a pair of HHS department awards from Azar last year, and had received top performance evaluations, her lawyers told the paper.

The complaint was filed on Wednesday with the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal watchdog agency.

The whistleblower’s lawyers provided a copy of a redacted 24-page complaint to the paper, which was also obtained by the New York Times.

“I soon began to field panicked calls from my leadership team and deployed staff members expressing concerns with the lack of H.H.S. communication and coordination, staff being sent into quarantined areas without personal protective equipment, training or experience in managing public health emergencies, safety protocols and the potential danger to both themselves and members of the public they come into contact with,” the whistleblower wrote, according to The Times.

The workers did not show symptoms of infection and were not tested for the virus, The Washington Post reported, citing the whistleblower’s complaint.

A spokesman for the office where it was filed said he couldn’t comment on such complaints.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the New York Post, but an HHS spokeswoman told the DC paper they were taking the matter seriously.

“We take all whistleblower complaints very seriously and are providing the complainant all appropriate protections under the Whistleblower Protection Act. We are evaluating the complaint and have nothing further to add at this time,” HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said.

The staff members were sent to Travis Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base in California and were ordered to enter quarantined areas, The Times reported.

The March Base housed 195 people evacuated from Wuhan for 14 days starting in late January.

Travis housed a number of quarantined people in recent weeks, including some of the roughly 400 Americans on the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise ship that had been docked in Japan.

President Trump on Wednesday named Vice President Mike Pence to head up the administration’s response effort and serve as point person for making any public announcements on the subject.

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A man convicted for killing his high school girlfriend was freed by decades-old DNA evidence. Now he's on a mission to find the real killer.

  • Fifteen-year-old high school freshman Leah Freeman was found dead in Coquille, Oregon, in 2001. 
  • Her boyfriend at the time, Nick MacGuffin, was convicted years later for her murder based on witness testimonies.
  • Bombshell DNA-evidence found on Freeman's shoes was resurfaced after McGuffin's trial and retested; the results found the DNA belonged to another unidentified man.
  • After serving nine years, McGuffin's conviction was overturned and he was freed from prison in 2019. 
  • Now, McGuffin is on a mission to find Freeman's real killer.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Nick McGuffin served nine years in prison for the murder of his high school sweetheart, Leah Freeman — a crime he insisted he did not commit for nearly 20 years. After his conviction, his attorney found decades-old DNA evidence not included in his criminal trial that proved his innocence. After years of maintaining his innocence, McGuffin is a free man. 

"Mr. McGuffin is an innocent man who has been fighting to clear his name for the past twenty years," McGuffin's attorney Janis Puracal told Insider. "For so many years, the state police crime lab knew that there was DNA of another man on the victim's bloodstained shoes, and they never said a word about it."

In spite of the wrongful conviction, McGuffin, now 37, is determined to find justice for his high school sweetheart. 

"That's the reason why I'm here…to keep Leah's name in the light," McGuffin told "20/20."

"[I want] to bring her name forward, to get somebody to come forward with the truth of what happened. To get resolution for myself, for her family," he added. 

Fifteen-year-old Leah Freeman was found dead in 2000

Before Leah Freeman's body was found in 2000, one of her tennis shoes was found near a cemetery in her hometown of Coquille, Oregon, while the other was found just outside of town — with blood on it. Nearly twenty years later, her gym shoes would hold the very DNA evidence that would free McGuffin from prison.

During her freshman year of high school, 15-year-old Leah Freeman began dating McGuffin, a high school senior, against her mother's wishes — and she wasn't the only one who had issues with the new couple. 

On June 28, 2000, Freeman disappeared after having a dispute with her friend Cherie Mitchell over McGuffin. After the pair got into a fight about how much time Freeman was spending with her new boyfriend, Freeman stormed out of Mitchell's house on foot.

McGuffin came in his car up to pick Freeman from Mitchell's house later that night only to discover she had already left. After spending hours driving around their small Oregon hometown McGuffin claimed he gave up the search in the early hours of the morning after checking her home one last time. 

 "I saw a glare on her window, though it was her TV," McGuffin explained on "20/20." "It was 2000. It's not like she could send me a text. She couldn't call me on a cellphone. So I thought she was home, and I went home after that."

When Freeman was still nowhere to be found, her mother and McGuffin went to the police, who began the search for they believed to be a runaway teen. But Freeman's mother, Cory Courtright, told "20/20" she "knew something was wrong."

Cheryl Courtright, Leah Freeman's mother, said she "knew something was wrong" when her daughter disappeared.
Screenshot/ABC "20/20"

The night of her disappearance a mechanic picked up one of Freeman's Nike tennis shoes in a cemetery thinking it belonged to one of his daughters, the World Link reported.

The mechanic later turned the shoe in to police after news of Freeman's disappearance spread like wildfire through the small Oregon town; the other blood-spattered pair was found a week later on the side of a dirt road.

The shoes were virtually Oregon State Police's only clue in her murder case at the time. While crime lab analysts found an unidentified male DNA on both shoes, they did not report it because it was such a small amount.

On August 3, 2000, law enforcement officer's finally found Freeman's body in the woods through some back roads. McGuffin told "20/20" he was devastated by the news of her murder and willingly participated in the police investigation, in which they checked him for defensive woods for a possible motive. With few clues but Freeman's shoes, the case eventually went cold. 

Freeman's murder rocked the small, quiet Oregon town with a population of about 4,000 — and some believed McGuffin was to blame.

Unable to grieve properly for her death or shake the suspicion of town residents, McGuffin said he was hospitalized after he attempted to take his own life. McGuffin eventually got his life back on track, finding happiness in cooking and his daughter, who was born in 2007, ABC reported.  

A new police chief re-opens Freeman's murder case

Years later, Freeman's death still haunted the residents of Coquille, Oregon. When the town got a new police chief in 2008, residents, especially Freeman's mother, demanded answers.   

"When I arrived in Coquille…everybody was talking about the Leah Freeman case. And one of the expectations as a new police chief was, 'What are you going to do about it, chief?'" Mark Dannels, the police chief, told "20/20." 

Dannels soon assembled a team from across the state to re-examine her case, They combed through old evidence and collected hundreds of new witness testimonies, including some from a former friend of McGuffin who testified that he had smoked marijuana and tried to have sex with her the night Freeman disappeared, and a witness who claimed to have seen the couple after Freeman left her friend's house.

These two testimonies would become the smoking gun in the trial against McGuffin. 

Justing Sullivan/Getty Images

On August 23, 2010, McGuffin was arrested and charged with murder. In July 2011, the prosecutors argued the couple had gotten into a fight that got physically violent and escalated into McGuffin killing his girlfriend. McGuffin maintained his innocence, claiming that the last time he had seen his girlfriend was when he dropped her off at Mitchell's house the night she disappeared. 

"My trial came down to people's words," McGuffin said. "My story has really never changed."

Ten of the 11 jurors found McGuffin guilty of manslaughter, during a time when Oregon was one of two states to allow non-unanimous criminal convictions at the time, ABC reported. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Bombshell DNA evidence was resurfaced after McGuffin's trial

After four years of being incarcerated, attorney Janis Puracal with the Forensic Justice Project took up McGuffin's case and discovered breakthrough DNA evidence that law enforcement did not know about or include in their investigation or the trial. Puracal asked to have the DNA re-tested in 2017; the results would show the DNA on the victim's shoes belonged to another man.   

"Finding that exculpatory DNA on the shoes, that was a huge moment for our case," Puracal told "20/20." "We were looking for DNA that would tell us who actually committed this crime. And here, there was DNA of some other man on the victim's bloodstained shoe … and never reported. That changed everything for us."

In December 2019, a judge overturned his conviction, ruling that Oregon State Police failed to reveal DNA evidence that could have exonerated McGuffin. After nine years of maintaining his innocence, McGuffin was freed from prison and reunited with his now 12-year-old daughter and her mother.

Nick McGuffin is photographed with his attorney Janis Puracal after he is freed from prison.
Courtesy of the Forensic Justice Project

Although a judge ruled there was a "reasonable probability" that the verdict on McGuffin's case would have been different had the DNA evidence been included in the trial, the judge maintained it did not demonstrate his innocence.

Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier chose not to seek a retrial for Freeman's murder and McGuffin will still be considered guilty in the case. Frasier told Oregon Live that Freeman's family did "not want go through the pain and stress of another trial."

Although McGuffin said he wanted accountability from law enforcement for the oversight of the bombshell DNA evidence, he said he is more concerned with finding the real culprit in Freeman's murder for her family and their small Oregon hometown. No other arrests have been made in connection with her case. 

"[We] have a chance right now to clean the slate to make it right," McGuffin told "20/20."

"I'm pretty sure a lot of people would want that. I know Leah would. I know her family wants that. I want the truth for them. What more can I ask for?" 

Read more about ABC "20/20"'s exclusive interview with Nick McGuffin here>>>

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Oregon Man Served Nearly 10 Years in Prison for Murder Conviction that Was Later Overturned

For nearly a decade, Nicholas McGuffin sat behind bars in an Oregon prison, insisting he had nothing to do with his girlfriend Leah Freeman’s 2000 disappearance and slaying.

From the very start, the Oregon man, now 37, maintained his innocence, telling local authorities in 2008 he would never have killed the 15-year-old girl. However, police and jurors did not believe him, and in 2011, McGuffin was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years.

McGuffin — who was 18 at the time of Freeman’s death — wouldn’t be cleared of the killing and freed until late 2019, when his conviction was overturned with the help of the Forensic Justice Project, an Oregon-based non-profit focused on combating the misapplication of forensic science.

For the first time since regaining his freedom, McGuffin opens up in an interview set to air during the upcoming 20/20, airing on ABC from 9 to 11 p.m. ET. (An exclusive clip is shown above.)

In the clip, McGuffin’s mother, Kathy McGuffin, recalls being at work on Dec. 17, 2019 when her son, who was scheduled for release the following August, asked her if she could pick him up that night.

“It was about 2:30,” Kathy starts. “Nick calls me and he says, ‘I am getting released tonight. Can you be here at 7?’ and I said, ‘Sure.'”

“It was unbelievable that it had finally happened,” she continues. “When we drove up to the prison, there’s Nick with all his wonderful people from the Forensic Justice Project. I think that was the first time I had cried in a long time. I had tears in my eyes. It was wonderful seeing him, knowing he was free.”

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Prior to McGuffin’s release, a judge had reversed his conviction after the revelation that the Oregon State Police crime lab failed to disclose that another man’s DNA has been found on Leah’s shoes.

Malheur County Circuit Senior Judge Patricia Sullivan ruled that vital evidence could have led to an acquittal in the case.

Prosecutors maintain they tried the right person for Leah’s murder. They could’ve appealed the overturned sentence or tried McGuffin again for the killing, but opted against it, feeling they wouldn’t be able to get another conviction, reports The Oregonian

Freeman vanished back on June 28, 2000, after leaving a friend’s house in Coquille. One of her shoes was found by a nearby cemetery that same night. Her body was recovered five weeks later down a steep embankment. Determining a cause of death was impossible because the body was in an advanced state of decomposition.

In the clip above, McGuffin speaks about the moment before he stepped back into the free world.

“It was overwhelming to be waiting to be released, knowing that was the last time I was every going to have to be in a place like that,” he explains.

The 20/20 episode on McGuffin’s case will feature interviews with McGuffin’s friends, his trial attorney, and the investigators and prosecutors who helped put him away.

Again, 20/20 airs this Friday, February 28, from 9 to 11 p.m. ET on ABC.


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Discovery says it can thrive even if coronavirus fears cancel Tokyo Summer Olympics

A cancellation of the Olympics due to coronavirus fears won’t hurt Discovery, the media company behind Food Network, TLC and OWN, it said on Thursday after posting better-than-expected earnings.

In a fourth-quarter earnings call, Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav sought to reassure investors about coming headwinds such as the shift to streaming and the potential cancellation of the Olympics this summer.

Discovery, which has the rights to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in some international markets, will be “monitoring” the situation “closely,” the exec said, offering that contingency plans are already in place.

“It [a cancellation of the Olympics] won’t have an adverse impact on financials,” he said without elaborating further.

Quarterly income for the three months that ended in December rose to $476 million, or 67 cents, a diluted share, versus $269 million, or 38 cents, a year earlier. Adjusted EPS totaled 67 cents, beating analysts’ estimates by a penny. Revenue rose 2 percent, to $2.87 billion, meeting expectations.

Zaslav boasted that Discovery has $3.1 billion in its coffers — a sum that he said could be used “like bullets” or act as a protective “mote” in this volatile era in which legacy media companies are facing ratings declines as viewers cut their cable cords.

Discovery has been able to rein in costs by focusing on unscripted shows.

Reality TV, like its hit franchise “90 Day Fiance,” shields Discovery from costly bidding wars for scripted shows and the talent required to make them, he said.

Despite the optimism, shares of Discovery fell 6.8 percent, to $24.67, as broader fears of the coronavirus outbreak pushed the broader market sent stocks spiraling for a fourth consecutive day.

Zaslav also said Discovery is looking to create a streaming service for all its channels in response to the cord-cutting trend, while also retaining the strength of its pay TV business.

“We like our hand in this rapidly evolving ecosystem,” he said. “Audiences love our content. They now just want to see it on all platforms.

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